Opinion: Ending mental health inequality

I joined the Liberal Democrats partially due to the importance that has constantly been put on mental health issues by the party. I have suffered from extreme depression and have ended up in A&E due to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. A couple of weeks ago I was officially discharged from psychiatry and I’m using my voice – as it’s a loud one – for those who are suffering and have lost their voice due to mental health concerns.

Over a month ago I wrote to the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, about her apparent lack of understanding when it comes to mental health concerns. On a radio show involving young voters she claimed that Scotland did not have the same issues as England when it came to mental health parity because in Scotland they already had the same legal status. She even went as far to say to one voter on the panel:

If you don’t think we’re doing enough then I have to convince you we are doing enough.

This could not be further from the truth. That’s why I wrote to her. I wrote that the CAMHS targets are not being met. They say that no child should wait longer than 18 weeks for a referral. Only 78.9% are being seen within that time frame. If you up the limit to 26 weeks only 7% more are being seen. That means that of those who are needing referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services 14% are not being seen within half a year! I’ve included the link to these statistics at the end of the post for those interested. I’ll just copy and paste the response I was given:

Some successes to date can be seen in the improvement to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS), where Scottish Government introduced a waiting times target that stated that from March 2013, no one will wait longer than 26 weeks from referral to treatment for specialist CAMHS – and no longer than 18 weeks from December 2014….We appreciate that there is still much room for improvement and we are working with NHS Boards to support their working in this area.

This response wasn’t even from Ms Sturgeon, who was our secretary of health for a very long time. It was from someone assigned to respond to me. The very targets I wrote about being a failure are the targets they’re calling a success. I also included in my letter that in the last 5 years – under an SNP government – the number of children and adolescents being admitted to hospital due to self-harming severely enough to require treatment has doubled and Childline in Scotland are noticing a 34% increase in calls from suicidal and depressed children in just a single year. There was no mention of that in the response I got.

I wanted to know what was being done to combat mental health failings but apparently the Scottish Government feel they’re doing so well and are even patting themselves on the back for their ‘success’. This post is for those of you who maybe don’t understand why mental health is such an important topic. It’s important because it’s not given enough attention. It’s important because it’s healthcare. It’s important because in the statistics I’m talking about are children wanting to end their lives or causing damage to themselves because they are mentally ill and they’re not receiving the care they need. It’s important because mental health is exactly the same as physical health. And it’s important because this response to an inquiry about mental health services in Scotland reads like a copy and paste from the government spin book when mental health is concerned. My condition is not something I’m ashamed of any more and I’m going to continue fighting for those who cannot.

* Rebecca Plenderleith is a new member.